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Best things to do in Scotland

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Where in the world: Europe  /  UK  /  Scotland
Tourists flock to the historic Highlands to search for the mysterious Loch Ness monster, but things to do in Scotland include many other activities. The small country is not only packed with thousands of years of history, but also outstanding natural wonders, many of which remain part of Cairngorms National Park. From Edinburg Castle to family-oriented museums like Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, World Heritage-listed Edinburgh combines ancient and modern in a uniquely Scottish atmosphere. The county of Aberdeenshire delights visitors with its castles, while the Hebrides boasts unspoiled beaches and fine whisky distilleries.

Scotland is best known for its Castles, Specialty Museums, and Distilleries.

Top 15 things to do in Scotland

1. Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh

A major monument of Scottish heritage and one of the world's most striking fortresses, Edinburgh Castle dominates the city's skyline. Sitting atop a large volcanic rock, the castle dates back to the 12th century. It served as the seat of Scottish royalty until the 17th century, when it became a military barracks. Today, the castle holds the Scottish crown jewels, three military museums, and a handful of exhibits. Guided tours included in the price of admission offer the most efficient and informative way to visit the castle. You'll hear highlights from its history and understand the significance of its various buildings and artifacts. After your tour, sit for tea in one of the complex's tearooms and enjoy a traditional Scottish meal in the Redcoat Cafe. Try to secure your tickets before visiting the castle to avoid waiting in line at the entrance.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
Tours from $19 › Learn more about Edinburgh Castle

2. The Royal Mile, Edinburgh

The Royal Mile is the main thoroughfare in Edinburgh's Old Town. Actually a bit longer than 1 mi (1.6 km), this succession of multiple streets spills downhill from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Stroll past stately Victorian buildings that now house restaurants, pubs, and shops, and stop to enjoy a street performance or two. The streets are steep in some places, so you can take a bus tour uphill to the castle and walk back down if you prefer. The Edinburgh Festival, a collection of smaller outdoor arts festivals, takes place throughout August with this area as its nexus. This might be the most exciting, if crowded, time to be on the thoroughfare.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
Tours from $20 › Learn more about The Royal Mile

3. Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

For the easiest possible access to rugged Scottish landscapes from Edinburgh, head to Arthur's Seat. This 250.5 m (822 ft) promontory sits just 1.6 km (1 mi) east of Edinburgh Castle. You can climb any face of the hill, but the easiest route is to approach from the east and walk up the grassy field. At the top, you'll find a 2,000-year-old fort and one of the best possible views of the city. Bring your camera, footwear with decent traction, drinking water, and clothing to protect yourself from the wind at the top.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
Tours from $19 › Learn more about Arthur's Seat

4. Underground Walking Tour in Edinburgh

FROM $23
Visit the infamous hidden and supposedly haunted vaults beneath the South Bridge in Edinburgh Old Town. Hear tales of how the poor and unfortunate lived in these former slums. Explore these dimly lit vaults by candlelight, once the haunt of criminals, body snatchers and witches alike, said by some to now be occupied by a few of the spirits of these inhabitants long since dead. Each vault has stories of crime, disease, death and lots more... with which your guide shall enlighten you in all the gory details! You will see a genuine witchcraft temple, recently used by a Wiccan coven and you will enter their former temple. Join us to learn why it is no longer safe for them to practice their craft in that vault. DARE you step inside the infamous stone circle?
Suggested duration: 1h
Tours from $23 › More about this tour at viator.com ›
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5. Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh

Aboard Royal Yacht Britannia, see how the royals lived while on the water. Originally launched in 1953 and decommissioned in 1997, this luxury ship features lavish living and entertainment quarters spread across five main decks. Take an audio tour, which is included in the cost of your ticket. The tour covers the bridge, state apartments, royal bedrooms, sun lounge, royal deck tearoom, the crew's quarters, and the gleaming engine room. Hear details on each room, see photos of the royal family onboard the ship, and discover what life was like for crewmembers serving royalty. If you have a sweet tooth, don't leave without trying fudge from the onboard sweet shop.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
Tours from $5 › Learn more about Royal Yacht Britannia

6. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

National Museum of Scotland combines one museum on Scottish antiquities, culture, and history and another on technology, natural history, and world cultures to create one of Britain's best facilities for learning and discovery. The overall collection is vast, so look at a map before visiting and choose the galleries you most want to see. A few of the many highlights include a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil, a mummy mask, and numerous objects that once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots. Entrance to the museum is free, and you can check items in the cloakroom for a small fee. Check the daily schedule of free themed tours before visiting to see if any interest you. The Museum Brasserie and the Balcony Cafe both serve food and drink.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
Tours from $19 › Learn more about National Museum of Scotland

7. Distillery Tours, Inverness

Suggested duration: 4 hours
Learn more about Distillery Tours

8. The World Famous Underground Ghost Tour

FROM $20
Experience the world's most haunted city on a ghost tour of Edinburgh and be spooked by one of the city's most infamous sons as they lead you around the dark side of the Old Town. Discover the hidden wynds (alleys) off the Royal Mile and hear some of Edinburgh’s horrifying secrets. Then, visit what is regarded as the most haunted graveyard in the world at "Greyfriars Kirkyard." Finally, go deep underground and explore the Edinburgh Vaults beneath the streets. Completed in 1788, the series of chambers were used to house taverns and as storage space for illicit material, including the bodies of people killed by serial killers Burke and Hare for their medical experiments. Journey through over 400 years of history and hear terrifying true tales of hangings, torture, murders and witchcraft. Shiver at the weird noises and unexplained smells that make an appearance after dark!
Suggested duration: 1h 15min
Tours from $20 › More about this tour at viator.com ›

9. Walking tours, Edinburgh

Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
Tours from $18 › Learn more about Walking tours

10. The Real Mary King's Close, Edinburgh

Experience 17th-century Edinburgh by touring The Real Mary King's Close. This collection of underground alleyways features buildings dating back to period of the Plague, and gives you a glimpse of Edinburgh life hundreds of years ago. Take a tour with a guide in period dress who will recount the close's history, share its associated ghost stories and myths, and bring you into a handful of homes left in their original condition. Named for Mary King, a famous local fabric trader and seamstress in the 1630s, the area was open to the sky before the city built over it and put it beneath street level. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, because you'll be walking on cobblestone streets.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
Tours from $11 › Learn more about The Real Mary King's Close

11. Glencoe National Nature Reserve, Glencoe

Find yourself at the lowest point of a valley with green, wild, rocky mountains looming overhead at Glencoe National Nature Reserve. This U-shaped glen was formed in the last Ice Age by a glacier, leaving behind a 16 km (10 mi) long, 700 m (0.4 mi) wide stretch of scenic beauty. The serene landscape is ideal for a countryside hike, with many different tails varying in difficulty to choose from. Stop by the visitor center to learn more about the natural surroundings; on-site amenities include a small museum, restaurant, and cafe, where you can warm up with a coffee after a nice hike.
Suggested duration: 8 hours
Tours from $760 › Learn more about Glencoe National Nature Reserve

12. Edinburgh Darkside Walking Tour: Mysteries, Murder and Legends

FROM $26
See Edinburgh’s shady side. The gruesome and the glorious. The ghostly and the ghastly. This 2-hour tour is a wickedly entertaining walk on the wild and dark side of the Scottish capital. Explore the spots where murders, monsters and mayhem have become things of legend, and visit Old Calton Burial Ground or Canongate Kirkyard, two of Edinburgh’s most chilling cemeteries. Throughout the tour, hear real-life tales of witches, body-snatchers, vampires, cannibals and more from your entertaining guide.
Suggested duration: 2h
Tours from $26 › More about this tour at viator.com ›

13. Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

Finish your stroll down Edinburgh's Royal Mile by touring the stately Scottish residence of the British monarch, Palace of Holyroodhouse. The palace's founding dates back to the establishment of Holyrood Abbey in 1128, and the King and Queen of Scots resided here from the 15th century onward. Inside you'll see the state apartments, which contain one of the world's largest collections of Brussels tapestries and numerous other works of art. You'll also enter Mary, Queen of Scots’ chambers, where the famous and ill-fated queen slept and devoutly practiced her Catholic faith. If you visit in summer, your ticket price includes a tour of the abbey, or use a complimentary audio guide as you walk through the palace. Before you leave, have your ticket stamped to receive a year of free admission.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
Tours from $19 › Learn more about Palace of Holyroodhouse

14. Edinburgh Old Town, Edinburgh

Take a historical stroll through Edinburgh Old Town, the oldest part of Scotland’s capital. This neighborhood, a protected World Heritage Site, is noted for its remarkably well-preserved medieval streets and many Reformation-era buildings. Wander through this vast network of narrow alleys and old cobbled streets to see and photograph Edinburgh Castle and the grand Holyroodhouse Palace. Stop by Saint Giles’ Cathedral, featuring a world-famous vaulted ceiling and ornate tombs, or visit the National Museum of Scotland to see its priceless collection of artifacts. Several guided tours are available in this area, including the Vaults Tour, which takes you beneath the town’s surface and into the secret subterranean chambers that once housed the city’s poor.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
Tours from $18 › Learn more about Edinburgh Old Town

15. Haunted Vaults walking tour in Edinburgh

FROM $23
Dark as the devil's heart, our haunted underground network of vaults from the 1700s will stimulate and excite your senses as the sinister history of these former slum dwellings, once inhabited by the poor and unfortunate along with criminals and prostitutes, begins to come to life in your imagination! Your pulse starts to speed up as your mouth gets drier due to your heightened awareness of what surrounds you! Once experienced, never forgotten.
Suggested duration: 1h
Tours from $23 › More about this tour at viator.com ›